My friend, Mardi, encouraged me to come to a hypnotherapy session with her because she thought I was a shaman and she wanted to “play” with me. Being an actress and a playwright, I knew I would enjoy the mind image exploration, but I wasn’t sure what Mardi meant when she said she would help me find my totems.
Nevertheless I went, and sat in the leather recliner in the center of the tiny office in Mardi’s cottage in the woods, and allowed myself to relax, a red throw blanket over my legs. The light was softening outside the French windows as twilight entered through the trees, and a soft breeze blew the gracefully arched branches of the Western red cedars back and forth, back and forth. Mardi began, her voice soft, monotone, as she encouraged me to focus on my breathing and follow a warm, yellow light through my body, from the top of my head, all the way down to the tips of my fingers and toes. As she described the light Mardi counted, slipping the numbers in between the words. My head slowly drooped until, by the time she got to five, my chin was heavy on my breastbone and even though I knew it was there, I had no inclination to move it.
Pan pipe music began playing softly behind me as Mardi’s voice led me onto a beach where four rocks, representing the four elements, were laid out in the sand like the points of a compass. Mardi asked me to step into the center of the rocks and turn from one to another. “So that you can become one with the earth, the wind, fire and water,” she murmured.
My mind drifted and I wondered whether I should make sausages for dinner tomorrow night. We hadn’t had sausages in a long time; but then again, there was that chicken to finish off in the freezer. Wait a minute….! Sausages?! What on earth was I doing thinking about sausages when I was supposed to be in a hypnotic trance? Was I faking this whole slumped over, semi-conscious thing? Or was this what Mardi meant when she told me I would never lose touch with my conscious mind? As I pondered these questions, I saw a woman standing in the center of the rocks, the sea breeze lifting her hair from her shoulders and flapping the hem of her loose fitting dress, but I wasn’t “one” with any of the elements as far as I could tell. Plus, if this woman was supposed to be me, she was a television-commercial-for-a-low-fat-cereal version of me, which of course, made me ask again if it were really me taking this journey?
Before I could answer I heard Mardi telling me to move on, to a small grove of trees at the upper edge of the beach. “I want you to walk through the trees and look for one in particular,” she instructed. “A big, old, gnarly oak tree that is wide enough around at the base that you can actually climb through a knot hole and put yourself inside.” Immediately I saw the tree and found a human-sized, horseshoe of an opening, framed by thick, twisted wood. I climbed inside.
“Now you’re in a world that only you can see,” she told me, which worried me a little since I couldn’t see anything, other than some fog. “And while you walk through this world,” Mardi went on, “I want you to look around and see if you can find your totems.”
This is where things got dicey for me. I understood the concept of totems but I had no idea what to look for in one that might apply to me. Plus I was moving forward, but I was not getting past the fog, so I was pretty sure that I’d never be able to see anything, let alone any totems.
Then I heard a sound to my right. I looked around and there, emerging from the mist to trot along beside me, was a tiny deer.
A deer?! I thought to myself. How lame is that?!
He was a beautiful young animal, rich tan in color with white spots and a pair of golden horns between his ears that were still in the velvet, but that just made it worse. He seemed like a Disney representation of a deer rather than the real thing, not something I could admit to as being my totem. “I can’t have a deer,” I whispered to the animal, while attempting to shoo him away with one hand. But the deer just continued to goose step along to the right of me.
I looked the other way, thinking that if I ignored the tiny deer, I might find a real totem. And there, keeping pace with me to the left, was a sparkly white spider that must have been at least eight feet tall. There was something about the spider’s iridescence and gentle serenity that comforted me and made me want to try a little harder to see just exactly where I was.
And when I tried, it came to me; a mossy path beneath my feet, the shadowy suggestion of tree trunks, and a creek, with refreshingly clear water frothing over smoothly rounded rocks. I walked forward, the deer and the spider still at my shoulders, and bent down to touch the water when a lime green frog jumped up and landed in the palm of my hand. He, too, was of an intensity more imagined than real and I was just about to touch the skin on his back, to feel its texture, when I heard Mardi calling me back. No, I cried inwardly, please not yet. I’ve only just got here. But Mardi was counting down, telling me that when she got to one I would wake up, and remember everything that had happened to me. Even though I resisted, Mardi was already at three and I had to let the frog go and run, like Alice running back up her rabbit hole, so that I could arrive in time to open my eyes just as Mardi said “one.”
“Well?” Mardi asked, folding her hands together on the desk in front of her.
I gave her a sleepy smile. “You brought me back too soon,” I grumbled.
“You know, that’s a hard call for me,” she said, “because, you notice, I didn’t speak when you were visiting your other world and, when I don’t speak, I run the risk of people waking up.” I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think I’d been close to waking up. “Your eyelids were fluttering,” she added.
“Really? It took me the longest time to actually see where I was.….”
“I hear that from a lot of people,” Mardi agreed. “And it makes sense that you can’t see it at first, that it’s…..well, murky. I think that’s a sign that you’re allowing your subconscious to tell you where you are instead of coming up with some preconceived place.” She paused to let me assimilate this. “Where were you? Can I ask?”
“Oh sure,” I replied. “I was in the forest.”
“The forest? Okay….” She picked up her pen. “Did you see your totems?”
“Uh huh. There were three of them.”
“Oh good!” She smiled a curly smile. “What were they?”
“A deer, a huge, white spider and at the very end, a frog.”
“Oh, those are great totems,” Mardi said as she scribbled them down. “Very powerful.”
“What do they mean?” I couldn’t wait to find out.
Mardi laid down her pen and pushed her hair away from her face before answering. “What I want you to do,” she said slowly, “is take a little time to think about them – all three of them – and pretty soon you’ll come up with their meaning.”
I was too relaxed to feel miffed but I was definitely confused by her answer. She wasn’t going to explain the totems to me? But then why did she have me find them? I drove home thinking I’d have to look these totems up to figure out their meaning. But life took over, as it usually does, and all thoughts of totems went out of my mind.
But apparently not forever. Four months later, as I was zoning over my second cup of morning tea, I found myself thinking about how spiders had been a recurring theme for me. As a child, growing up in England, I’d been plagued by spider nightmares. The spiders in them had been big and black and ugly and I would find them pulsing, menacingly, above my bed, causing me to scoop for cover under my sheets, my heart thumping like crazy. A few years after I moved away from home, I noticed that the spider nightmares had diminished in frequency and then, a couple of years into my marriage, I realized they’d gone away altogether.
Maybe, I thought to myself, the spider was a totem for my psychological health. And since the spider on my journey was so pretty, maybe it represented something that could soothe me when I felt anxious, instead of something that I should fear.
If that were true, I went on in my mind, then maybe the deer represented my physical well-being. I sat for a moment, quietly absorbing this deduction and then took my final mouthful of tea. I still had no idea what the frog represented.
Again the totems went out of my mind and probably would have stayed out had it not been for an annoying skin irritation on my face, that I’d been living with for many years. I didn’t really know what the irritation was – some kind of mild eczema or psoriasis, roasacia maybe – but it manifested itself as angry red patches of skin on either side of my nose that would itch, burn and occasionally flake. About a year after my visit to Mardi and the night before one of my plays was to be given a public reading in Seattle, I climbed into bed and felt the ominous burning, itching sensation under the skin on one side of my nose. Great, I thought. I’m going to have a big red patch on my face by tomorrow evening. Just what I need when I’m answering questions in front of an audience. I listened to my husband snoring gently beside me. Maybe I should talk to the deer, I thought, and immediately, the beautiful little animal appeared at the side of my bed. “I have this skin problem,” I told him in my mind and the deer stepped forward and began licking me on the face just exactly where it burned and itched. His tongue was rough, raspy, like a cat’s tongue and I wondered how silly this would seem if anyone knew that I was letting an imaginary deer lick me on the face. But the deer didn’t seem bothered by that thought and so I let him do his job while my breathing slowly fell into the pattern of that of my sleeping husband.
Six weeks later, I was checking myself in the mirror under the visor in my van, noticing that my skin was remarkably blemish free and had been for a while, when I suddenly caught that thought and examined it. How long had it been? I asked myself. It had been……? since that night, that night with the deer. In fact, once I looked back on it, not only had I not had an outbreak since then, but my skin hadn’t flared up before the play reading either. I was stunned. It had worked! It had actually worked! The deer had cured me of my skin problem and it had done so silently, unobtrusively. Like a suitor leaving a secret Valentine.
It’s been a dozen years since I found my totems and my skin problem has never returned. Maybe to some, this kind of minor ailment is not much of a test of the power of mind image healing and I wish I could say that I’ve tested the deer’s healing powers on other illnesses. But the truth is, I haven’t had any other illnesses. Not even a head cold. Whether I can attribute this to my deer totem, I don’t know. But at 57, with no illnesses, I’m happy to give him the credit.
The spider has also helped me at times. When I was anxious I’d call on her and she’d bring me the kind of calm that I needed to face difficult situations. And the frog? The frog I finally concluded was the totem for my professional health. Since I’m a writer, I thought the frog was going to croak news of my work out into the world but I don’t think that’s it. People say the frog will help your soul sing, and if the pleasure I’ve been deriving from my writing of late is a sign, then my soul is a-burst with song. Like frogs in the springtime.